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Kwik Trip gets electronic sign approval



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April 01, 2014 | 10:42 AM
Construction of the new Kwik Trip on its two-acre Williams Street site is proceeding.

The buildings at 612, 630 and 700 Williams are coming down to make room for a 6,000-square-foot gas station/convenience store with six fuel pumps and a car wash.

Part of that construction will involve a 12-by-8-foot monument sign with an electronic advertising component that will change its messages every minute.

The Lake Geneva City Council approved the conditional use permit on March 24 to allow the electronic component. But it wasn’t unanimous.

According to City Attorney Dan Draper, the 12-foot-by-8-foot sign is allowed by right according to city zoning ordinances.

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It’s the largest commercial sign size the city allows. Only one other monument sign in the city is as large, and that is the sign in front of Burger King at Main and Wells streets.

Kwik Trip’s arrival in Lake Geneva has been accompanied by controversy.

An earlier conditional use permit for Kwik Trip was denied by the city plan commission in October. A number of residents and business owners came out to the public hearing, claiming that Kwik Trip did not fit in and would spell the end of some of the gas stations in the city.

But the city council returned the denial back to the commission on a technicality. The commission approved the conditional use on the second try.

Kwik Trip opponents have not given up.

During the March 24 meeting, former alderwoman Mary J. Fesenmaier said she was opposed to the electronic component of the sign. Fesenmaier also said she believed the city ordinance holds monument signs to no more than six feet, as opposed to the 8-foot height the city allowed for Kwik Trip.

The sign at Burger King is the same size as that proposed by Kwik Trip, but Fesenmaier said it is not as noticeable because that sign is at the bottom of a hill. Kwik Trip is at the top of a rise along Williams.

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But City Attorney Dan Draper said that Kwik Trip can have the sign by right because of zoning. He said while the city’s general zoning ordinance holds most signs to just 6-foot tall, specific language in certain commercial zones allow taller signs.

The conditional use permit before the council was for the electronic sign only, he said.

Terry O’Neill, also a former alderman, said he was against the electronic sign because it will distract drivers and create a hazard for persons crossing Williams at Ann streets.

The existence of the Kwik Trip store at that location will make the intersection dangerous enough, O’Neill said.

According to Draper, the city allows electronic signs to change no faster than once a minute, and the brightness of the sign will be about a third the brightness allowed by ordinance.

“We should approve this contingent that they hold their price for gas at $3.13 a gallon,” joked Alderman Dennis Lyon, referring to the conceptual drawing Kwik Trip submitted of their proposed sign.

Alderwoman Sarah Hill, however, said she does not want to encourage “blinky signs,” referring to the proposed electronic component.

Alderwoman Ellyn Kehoe wondered why Kwik Trip needed such a large sign.

Council members Bill Mott, Hill and Kehoe voted against the conditional use.

Kwik Trip, the LaCrosse-based convenience store and gas station chain, has told the city the cost of construction of its new store will be “north of $3 million,” and that the store would employ up to 30 people.

An abandoned manufacturing building, a car repair shop and a small travel agency had occupied the site.

Kwik Trip’s wasn’t the first proposal for the property. Two years ago, a group proposed remodeling the vacant manufacturing building on the site as a church.

The project went so far as getting the property rezoned for planned development. However, the church organization abandoned the project when it realized renovation would be too expensive.

At the time, Tom Landgraf, the owner of the properties, argued that this was the best possible project for the land, because, after 17 years on the market, it was the only written proposal he’s received for the properties.

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